5 Minutes with Joni-Rae Carrack | If Not Here… Where?

Our production of If Not Here… Where? toured to hospitals and hospices across the UK in February 2020, and was due to repeat the tour this year before the pandemic hit. We spoke to performer and puppeteer Joni-Rae Carrack about how the show was adapted digitally and what the key challenges have been.

In February 2020, myself and my fellow performer Aaron toured The Little Angel Theatre’s If Not Here… Where? In children’s hospitals, wards and hospices around the UK. We performed the show in person at children’s bedsides and in playrooms. This year things have been very different. 

Obviously, due to COVID-19, we haven’t been able to go into hospitals as planned. Instead, Little Angel have developed a digital version of the show, which has been put into a tablet that can be used by hospital play teams. And for the past couple of weeks, we have been lucky enough to escort this version of the show around the UK. 

We filmed the show (and all it’s possible choices!) earlier this year at Little Angel Studios. After a long, hard year of lockdowns, it was so exciting to see everyone at Little Angel again, to perform with Aaron and to be reunited with the puppets and props. It felt like an island of normality after a sea of uncertainty.

It also felt very strange. We had to be careful to adhere to social distancing, mask wearing and keeping our hands and puppets clean and, of course, there was no hugs after being away from each other for so long. I was really grateful for the chance to be puppeteering again and tried to not take the days for granted.

As we knew the show so well (it’s hard to forget a show we would perform sometimes 6 times a day!), we had more time to fully explore the show and the nuances in the performance. At the start of the show, the puppet is isolated and alone, then they go through an overwhelming journey before finding a calm place to catch their breath. I found that the puppet’s emotional journey now seemed to parallel my own emotional journey through lockdown. It gave a small silver lining to the experience of lockdown to know it was enriching my puppeteering.

After three quick days of rehearsing and filming, we were saying goodbye to each other and the show again but with the hope now that it would be seen again by children in another form.

I was delighted to be asked to be a facilitator for the digital version of the show. It felt good to still be a part of the production, even in this new form. It’s been lovely to revisit some of the hospitals we went to last year and to go to some new ones too. The feedback so far from the play teams has been wonderful.

The show is still a special moment in what is often a very difficult time for the children and their families. 

The strangest part of the tour is not being able to actually go into the hospitals. Although, this is completely understandable! What is important is that children and young people get the chance to see and engage with the show and this is the safest way possible. However, I have missed meeting all the children and performing a unique show for them and meeting all the amazing play staff, nurses and doctors. 

Fingers crossed that in the future, we’ll be able to tour again with all the puppets, boxes and props. But it’s great to know that, even if things get tough again, the show can still reach the children that need it the most. 

You can find out more about If Not Here… Where? here.

You can find out more about Joni-Rae’s work here.

Photos by Benedict Johnson.